Noise Canceling vs. Noise Isolating Headphones
If you’re one of the many people who work or travel in a noisy environment, you’ve probably tried to find a solution to this annoying problem. And you might have done your research and found out that there are noise canceling headphones and noise isolating headphones. More often than not, people confuse the terms with each other. However, there’s a fundamental difference – mainly in how they deal with ambient noise. Let’s take a look at each of them below.
Noise Canceling or Active Noise Canceling Headphones (ANC)
These headphones make use of a tiny dedicated microphone to pick up incoming noises. When the electronics inside the mic detect a noise signal, they immediately create an opposite (180-degree) noise and send it to the headphones. In this way, they cancel each other out, and you don’t hear anything but your music. In fact, the opposite noise fends off the incoming sound before it even can enter the ear pads. Noise-canceling headphones are extremely effective when you’re dealing with lower-range noises. These are sounds and noises from airplane engines, humming, or traffic. Of course, their effectiveness depends on the brand. Usually, the more expensive ANC headphones provide better noise cancelation. Also, bear in mind NC technology needs a battery or a power source to keep it running. What if there’s a higher-frequency sound? For those types of sounds, the majority of noise canceling models use sound proofing. It keeps away most of the higher-frequency noises.
Advantages of Active Noise Canceling Headphones
- Fantastic for canceling low-range sounds and noises below 500 Hz (traffic, humming, etc.)
- Newer ANC headphones also function well as noise-isolating headphones.
Disadvantages of Active Noise Canceling Headphones
- Not very effective against high-pitch noises (human chatter or sharp noises).
- Need a battery or another power source to run.
- Often pricier due to the ANC technology.
If you often travel or work in noisy environments and want some peace and quiet, noise cancelation might be your go-to option. Keep in mind cheaper models don’t have the best sound quality, especially when it comes to high-resolution audio. We’ve selected some of the industry’s best noise canceling headphones for you. Find them below and choose the one that suits you:
Noise Isolating Headphones or Passive Noise Isolating Headphones (PNI)
These headphones don’t make use of any technology. They’re designed in a way to maximize physical isolation from surrounding sounds and are made of sound-blocking materials. You’ll recognize good noise isolating headphones by their tight-fitting earpads (eartips) and their closed-backs. Passive sound isolation tackles all noise ranges. In comparison to noise canceling headphones, the noise isolating headphones are better when dealing with high-pitch sounds and worse when dealing with low-pitch noises like humming. What’s more, PNI headphones don’t need batteries or energy sources to power them. That’s why we call them passive. And while all noise canceling headphones are also noise isolating (in a way), the opposite is not true.
Advantages of Passive Noise Isolating Headphones
- Usually cheaper than noise canceling headphones
- Don’t need battery or another power source to run.
- Very effective against high-pitch sounds and noises.
Disadvantages of Passive Noise Isolating Headphones
- Not very effective when dealing with low-frequency noises and sounds – traffic, humming, etc.
PNI headphones are usually more affordable and their passive noise isolation doesn’t interfere with the audio quality. So, if you prefer sound quality, this is your choice.
The Various Types of Headphones
Headphones have various forms and sizes. In general, there are several different types of headphones that we can distinguish:
- Over-ear headphones
- On-ear headphones
- In-ear headphones (earbuds)
- Earphones (classic earbuds)
All types of headphones come with a different fit & design, and have varying performance. You can easily find high-quality models in each of the four categories, but they don’t greatly differ in terms of volume, impedance, bass response, and response frequency. Let’s take a look at each of the four types below:
Over-ear headphones (also known as over-the-ear headphones or circumaural) are the largest in size. The name “over-ear” stems from their earcups – they’re big enough to cover your entire ears. For that reason, you can also find them by the name “around-the-ear” headphones.
Advantages of Over-the-Ear Headphones
- Fantastic sound (if you pick the right model).
- Super comfortable thanks to their plush earpads.
- Great passive noise isolation, which contributes to a better listening experience.
Disadvantages of Over-the-Ear Headphones
- Not easy to carry around or sleep with them (unless you have a special pillow) due to their large size.
- Could be more expensive than the other types of headphones.
- Heavy weight, which hinders some daily activities.
Bear in mind that not all over-ear headphones are the same size. This means that you might be able to find some that are good for everyday use. But as a general rule, most will be big and heavy, and might hinder your daily activities, including working, exercising, etc. Over-ear headphones are great for studio use, as a part of gaming headsets, or when you’re chilling at home and you want to listen to a high-quality audio sound. If you’re looking for passive noise isolation, the over-ear headphones are your choice, but they can’t effectively cancel incoming noises. Wondering what to choose? Take a look at this selection we specifically picked for you:
Also known as supra-aural headphones, the on-ear headphones are your go-to option for portable headphones. People wear them on public transportation, in co-working spaces, or even in gyms. Their smaller ear cups and weight allow you to carry them around more easily than the over-ear headphones. Choose the right model, and you can be a proud owner of something that’s not only cool but also sounds great.
Advantages of On-ear Headphones:
- Great sound (if you pick the right model).
- Best portability of headphones that are placed over or on the ear.
- Comfortable for running, working out, and any other indoor or outdoor everyday activities.
Disadvantages of On-ear Headphones:
- Not as comfortable as over-ear headphones because of the extra pressure on the earlobes.
- Let more in and out sounds – you can hear others and they can hear your music.
- Some models look funny on the head.
These headphones are a cool and smaller alternative to their big brothers, but they’re not as effective when you want to isolate yourself from ambient sounds. It’s always a good idea to do your own research when choosing on-ear headphones. To facilitate your choice, we’ve selected some of the best ones below:
In-Ear Headphones (earbuds or in-ear monitors)
If you’re looking for something small, discreet, and portable, the in-ear headphones are your go-to choice. Better known as earbuds or just buds, the in-ear headphones are called “in-ear” because their buds go, well, inside your ears. The idea is the source of music to be as close as possible to your eardrums. Plus, it helps with the sound quality, noise canceling, and noise isolation. In the past, you could find them wired, but nowadays, there are many wireless (or cordless) options.
Advantages of In-Ear Headphones:
- The most portable headphones thanks to their tiny size.
- Can be sweatproof or waterproof, making them great for sports and heavy exercising.
- Amazing noise isolation and noise canceling, giving you zero distractions and a fantastic audio quality.
Disadvantages of In-Ear Headphones:
- They can be irritating to the ear canal of some people, making them uncomfortable.
- The sound quality is great, but the over-ear headphones still outperform them when it comes to soundstage.
In-ear headphones are extremely easy to carry around. Just place them in your pocket, and take them out whenever you need them. It’s true that the buds sometimes get lost or damaged, but it’s easy to replace them. The more expensive options bring you incredible noise isolation and high-end sound quality. This means that if you don’t want to hear what’s going on around, even some low-frequency noises like Below, you’ll find our best selection of in-ear headphones:
Classic Earbuds (Earphones)
Classic earbuds or earphones are the small buds that appeared along with Walkmans and iPods. These headphones don’t go inside your ear. On our website, we’ll call them classic earbuds to distinguish them from the other earbuds or in-ear headphones. You can still find classic earbuds offered by some brands, but the in-ear headphones are much more popular nowadays.
Advantages of the Classic Earbuds:
- The most portable headphones (along with in-ear headphones) thanks to their tiny size.
- Much cheaper than most other headphones due to their outdated design.
- More comfortable than in-ear headphones to many people because they don’t irritate the ear canal.
- Usually sweatproof or waterproof, making them great for sports and heavy exercising.
Disadvantages of the Classic Earbuds:
- Much lower noise isolation in comparison to in-ear headphones (but you have better situational awareness).
- Hard to find a high-quality model because they’re outdated.
The best thing about the classic earbuds is their better situational awareness compared to in-ears. It helps you stay safe when you’re running or exercising in nature or in the city.
Wireless – Bluetooth Headphones
In the 21st century, people grew tired of cables and wires. As a result, wireless headphones were born. And they quickly became very popular. Wireless technology in headphones normally uses Bluetooth, and we’re likely to see it develop even more in the future.
Bluetooth Wireless Technology
It’s true that there are many wireless technologies today. The most popular and commonly used is Bluetooth. That’s mainly because most devices support it. At the outset, Bluetooth headphones had a poor connection and a nasty latency. Nowadays, that’s not the case anymore. The latest ones take great pride in low latency and fantastic sound quality, so you should consider Bluetooth headphones if you’re fed up with wires. For you, we’ve selected the best wireless noise canceling headphones below:
Other Wireless Technologies
Bluetooth is the most common wireless technology, but it’s not the only one. Wireless gaming headsets, for instance, make use of radio technology (at 2.4 GHz). Why radio frequencies? They penetrate through walls and floors, which is essential for a good user experience – because most gamers play at home.
Earplugs come in different sizes, shapes, and colors. They’re good for isolating yourself from barking dogs, humming noises, or when you need a good night’s sleep. If your neighbor’s dog is giving you a headache with its barking, a good and cheap way to deal with the annoying noise is foam earplugs.
Advantages of Earplugs:
- Extremely portable. You can carry them around with you.
- The cheapest option to deal with ambient noises.
Disadvantages of Earplugs:
- May become loose and need refitting.
- Can be irritating to the ear canal of many people.
- One of the worst options when it comes to noise reduction or noise isolation.
Below, you’ll find our best choices for you when it comes to selecting earplugs:
If you’re looking for another way to isolate yourself from noises and no other option suits you for some reason, you can go with earmuffs.
They’re much more comfortable to the ears in comparison to earplugs, in-ear headphones, or classic earbuds. What’s more, most earmuff models are usually a one-size-fits-all solution, which avoids some troubles. In addition to protecting you from loud noises, earmuffs keep your ears warm, which makes them perfect for landscapers or construction staff who have to brave freezing temperatures while working.
Electronic earmuffs differ from regular ones due to the microphones they use to let ambient sounds in when noises are not present. Once they detect some sort of noise or loudness, the mic immediately attenuates to protect the wearer. The more advanced options provide a better natural hearing experience and even allow you to have a phone conversation.
Advantages of Earmuffs:
- Custom fit. One size fits all.
- Easy to see. Hence, hard to lose.
- Keep you warm and isolated from sounds.
Disadvantages of Earmuffs:
- Not very portable.
- Extremely uncomfortable in hot or humid climate.
- Does not provide the best sound isolation when extreme noises are present.
We’ve selected the best earmuffs for you below:
Whether you’re dealing with barking dogs, crying babies, traffic sounds, or other annoying noises, it’s better that you’re prepared. We hope that these noise canceling headphones, earplugs, and earmuffs will help you live a quieter, more relaxed life. If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to leave a comment below.